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This song was written by J.P. Richardson, who was an influential Texas disc jockey known as "The Big Bopper." Richardson had a hit of his own in 1958 with "Chantilly Lace
," and on February 3, 1959, was killed in the plane crash that also claimed the lives of Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens. In America, this song was released about 6 months later, as it was delayed by legal constraints due to Richardson's death in the plane crash.
Rock and Roll was still in its infancy in the '50s, and teenagers were the target audience. Many of the songs of that era are about teenagers, and like this one, often involve tragedy. In this song, Running Bear is a young Indian who falls in love with a girl from the rival tribe across the river. At the end of the song, they swim to meet each other and drown.
This was a Country hit for Sonny James in 1969. Other artists to record it include George Jones, Don Fardon and The Guess Who. Jones did the "Ocka Chunka" backing with The Big Bopper on the original.
Richardson thought the Romeo & Juliet theme of this song was too serious for him to record. He passed it on to his friend, the Cajun musician friend Johnny Preston, who originally was unsure about the song but was eventually persuaded to cut it. Preston became a Rockabilly star and followed "Running Bear" with the #7 "Cradle of Love." He died on March 4, 2011 at age 71.
In 1971 The English singer and Pop mogul Jonathan King took the "Ocka Chunka" backing from this hit and added it to the B.J. Thomas song "Hooked On A Feeling
." His cover reached #23 in the UK and three years later Swedish group Blue Swede topped the American singles chart with their version again with the "Ocka Chunka" backing.
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